San Diego-based Sempra Energy has spearheaded the launch of a group called the Global Natural Gas Coalition to promote exports of gas obtained via fracking (hydraulic fracturing) to the global market. Sempra is a natural gas utility giant and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export and import company.
Announced at a June 25 gathering at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the Global Natural Gas Coalition features other participants such as the American Petroleum Institute (API), LNG Allies, the American Gas Association, American Chemistry Council, and others, according to its event page on the website Eventbrite. The RSVP information for the Press Club event features the contact information for Paty Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Sempra, and the company's representatives consisted of eight out of the 78 attendees of that event, according to the Eventbrite page.
Also attending the event were officials from several agencies in the Trump administration. They included Mark Menezes, Elise Atkins, Christine Harbin, Jessica Szymanski, and Sara Kinney of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE); Deaver Alexander, William Thompson, and Stephen Morel of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (a federal agency focused on helping “American businesses invest in emerging markets”); Scott Condren of the U.S. Export-Import Bank; and John McCarrick of the U.S. Department of State.
Harbin, before beginning her job as senior advisor for external affairs in the DOE's Office of Electricity, worked as vice president of external affairs for Americans for Prosperity, a front group created and run by the petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers and funded by Koch Industries.
The labor union Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) also has voiced support of the coalition, sending its lobbyists Yvette Pena O'Sullivan and Ryan Sandmann to the kick-off event in D.C.
LIUNA is proud to join the Global Natural Gas Coalition to promote the use of natural gas as a safe and affordable fuel https://t.co/kJx4igJL8P— LIUNA (@LIUNA) June 25, 2018
“LIUNA’s half-million members — who have worked over 80 million hours in the pipeline industry in the last five years — are proud to join the Global Natural Gas Coalition to promote the use of natural gas as a safe and affordable fuel to meet the world’s energy needs,” Pena-O’Sullivan stated in a June 25 press release.
Also attending were diplomats from the European Parliament, Mexico, Croatia, Latvia, and an energy official from Brazil.
“Natural gas is expected to become the fastest-growing major fuel globally by 2040,” the coalition explains in a blog post about its launch. “To articulate the essential role of natural gas in this transformation and as part of a true global energy strategy, gas producers, infrastructure developers, operators, manufacturers, and consumers have joined together in a universal pursuit to build a platform that supports natural gas as a foundational fuel now and into the future.”
It is not clear who created the Global Natural Gas Coalition, which had its website first published on June 18, one week before the Press Club event. According to the domain name search tool CentralOps.net, the coalition registered its website on the whoisprivacyprotect.com web domain, which is run by the company Enom.
“We know that you want your information to be private and protected,” says Enom of its web domain concealing skills on its website. “Even if you don’t mind this type of information being public, anyone — including mail, email, and telephone marketers — can use WHOIS records to pester domain registrants with unwanted solicitations.”
This may be Sempra's first foray into leading a major coalition promoting the extraction of natural gas via fracking, but it's not the only example in the industry.
The company Cheniere — which has a proposed export terminal in the Gulf of Mexico called Corpus Christi LNG and another Gulf-based one currently open for business called Sabine Pass LNG — helped back a different front group called Our Energy Moment and Sempra is still listed as a member of that coalition. But that coalition, whose public relations efforts were led by Democratic Party operatives as DeSmog revealed in an investigation, appears to have fallen by the wayside in the Donald Trump era. The group has not issued a press release or had any social media activity since prior to his inauguration
Dennis Arriola, chief strategy officer and executive vice president for Sempra, is listed as a founding member of the coalition on a press release disseminated by the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. Arriola was scheduled to give opening remarks at the Press Club event, according to the RSVP page.
“The world is in the midst of a fundamental energy transformation where natural gas will be the foundational fuel for economic prosperity throughout the world,” Arriola said in the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America press release. “Our Global Natural Gas Coalition brought together groups and individuals to show our strength and provide a voice for natural gas and the many benefits it provides.”
LIUNA did not respond to a request for comment for this story. Sempra responded to questions about the new coalition by pointing to the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America press release. A spokesman for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America deferred comment on the Global Natural Gas Coalition to the other member groups.
TransCanada's Cameron Access Pipeline
The company is also a tour de force in Southern California's electricity market and in Mexico through its utility sector subsidiaries SoCalGas, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE), and IEnova. In the San Diego-area, SDGE has actively used its political and business clout in an attempt to fend off community choice policy proposals, which would allow residents to pick the company where they get electricity, including from competing renewable energy sector companies.
For its Cameron LNG facility, which would be a competitor to Cheniere's Sabine Pass facility in Sabine Pass, Louisiana, pipeline giant TransCanada plans to build a $300 million pipeline which would connect to the terminal called — appropriately enough — the Cameron Access pipeline. TransCanada is best known for the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, which would ship tar sands extracted from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska, but through other projects, the company has become an increasingly sizeable carrier of fracked gas to the Gulf Coast export market and across the U.S. border into Mexico.
Cameron LNG is expected to open for business in 2019 after receiving final approval from the Obama administration in 2016. The Cameron Access pipeline, too, is expected to open at about the same time and received the permit it needed from the Obama administration in 2015.
Cameron Access will create “significant value for our customers by providing additional connectivity for their domestically produced natural gas to the high-value U.S. Gulf Coast LNG export market,” Stanley Chapman III, TransCanada's President for U.S. Natural Gas Pipelines, stated in a March 2018 press release. “Additionally, LNG export projects such as Cameron Access will help reduce global carbon emissions by allowing emerging markets to displace coal-fired power generation with clean-burning natural gas.”
Scientific reports have found that leaks of the powerful greenhouse gas, methane, during natural gas operations are higher than previously thought and may make gas worse for the climate than coal power.
Sempra Lobbying, Political Spending
Beyond its business plans, Sempra has remained politically active through both its federal lobbying activities and campaign donations for the 2018 midterm elections, donating an almost equal amount to members of both the Democratic and Republican parties in Congressional races, according to campaign finance data reviewed by DeSmog. Major recipients of the company's money have included Democratic House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), U.S. Rep. Devin Dunes (R-CA), among others.
To date in 2018, Sempra has spent over $1 million on federal lobbying, with two teams (one in-house and one contracted team) lobbying in support of LNG exports. It has also spent over $63,000 on the midterm elections.
One of the attendees at the Press Club event, Sempra lobbyist Maryam Sabbaghian Brown, formerly served as the top energy adviser for Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. From 2006-2008, Brown served as staff director of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy & Mineral Resources.
Environmental organizations, including Food & Water Watch, Oil Change International, 350.org, the Center for Biological Diversity, and dozens more, recently critiqued the Department of Energy for a draft study it commissioned, which they say did not account for the climate change impacts and future costs associated with a global LNG export boom fueled by U.S.-produced fracked gas. As Lorne Stockman, Senior Research Analyst with Oil Change International and lead author of the comments, said in a statement:
“The draft study is deeply flawed, as the authors chose to ignore both climate science and climate action in favor of what appears to be a political imperative over any objective analysis … In my experience, this would not stand up to peer review in any academic institution.”
With the Energy Department involved in this new coalition, however, those critiques appear to have fallen on deaf ears.